Doc In New Orleans

By Doc Wendell

 

I can still feel the rain-kissed breeze traveling vastly across The Mississippi River down onto Decatur Street; The daydream inducing intoxication of the ancient Cherrybark oak trees and the sad, wistful Spanish moss tempering the rhythms of the adolescent street drummers banging furiously on plastic buckets, lost in that deep Southern mid-day funk found nowhere else on Earth.  New Orleans.  A man like me could disappear forever here. Yes, that sounds perfect.  You’re expected to be something or someone in Los Angeles. I no longer have the energy to present any image of myself to anyone anymore. As a massive crowd passed me on a late Saturday morning on Jackson Square moving towards St. Louis Cathedral, it dawned on me that I could get lost in the sea of already slightly drunken faces for an eternity with my lady by my side. And no one would know.

Time and nature both move at their own pace in “The Big Easy.”  The music is a soundtrack of America in all of its glorious, unabashed splendor.  None of that jive rock- blues, smooth jazz, or fake bop here. Frenchmen Street will not allow any of that. No amateur posturing at all. I never thought this could be.  I was seeking total anonymity of being and it was waiting for me with its skeleton key in hand.  I didn’t even want to take notes on the various bands and musicians I witnessed.  I wanted to live the music, take it all in and not report on it in under 200 words.  My sweetheart and I wandered from club to club, chowing down on shrimp and grits at The Maison while listening to a sprightly young Traditional Jazz band paying tribute to the late, great Sidney Bechet. The tenor saxophonist and trumpeter both cooked beyond belief.  Next we moved onto to the world famous Louisiana Music Factory record store across the street where local blues great Little Freddie King was just finishing off an in-store set. The more immersed I became in the whole scene, the more my identity melted away. suddenly a torrential rain storm blasted Frenchmen Street like a cannonball.  We darted over to a club called Vaso for more real blues and a dry refuge.  As we attempted to shake off the rain and listened to what looked like a 16 year old boy playing like T-Bone Walker, a fallen down, stone drunk woman seated next to me asked me for some spare change to get something to eat. We stayed for a few more numbers until we witnessed what looked like Katrina all over again outside.  It was like a monsoon. Even the smell of the unforgiving rain felt ancient but we had to think quickly and so we jumped in a cab, drenched to the bone, but alive. A new alive.

The rain had washed more of what I felt I had to be away forever and the feeling was sheer ecstasy. Ghosts haunt every twist and turn of the city and I wanted to join them with one last joyous funeral procession.  I contemplated what it would be like to exist with no physical form, no name, no legacy,  just a faint feeling of something unknown that passes too quickly to process. The voodoo priestesses and grand illustrious cemeteries understood this desire all too well. What lead me to this frame of mind felt like a near nervous breakdown before arriving in The Crescent City. How I got there is no longer relevant. I found a new realm of survival to chase all the way down. Everything else now is just circus peanuts and gravy.

I left New Orleans with a calm I hadn’t felt in 5, maybe 6 years. What one might define as death breathed new life into me. Actual death always seems to be waiting for me in Los Angeles but I knew I would return someday soon to the city where life and death dance together in that dance of the gods.

 

The Visit

 

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

 

Mr. Smead, the wheezing, nervous assistant of the cutthroat Doctor Shedsleep took a quick glance at my records and poorly laminated insurance card and grunted in disgust.

A loud whistle sounded throughout the polluted little hospital. The sound pierced my ears and made me wince in fright.

“Smead, you little toad!”, a loud booming voice was heard as the whistle subsided. It was old Doc Shedsleep himself, appearing drunk and nauseas. “But, what did I?…I saw..” Smead nervously replied.  Doctor Shedsleep shouted “You missed something, young Smead. This is why you stay a lowly assistant mutt!”

Smead thrust forward in relief as if coming to some great realization, grabbed me by the shirt collar and looked me sharply in the eyes.

“Oh, I see now!” said smead with an arrogant smirk.  

“Tell him quickly and be done with him.” said Doc Shedlseep .

Smead studied my eyes a moment longer and coldly spoke in a low voice “Dreams are a luxury for kings; one that you can’t afford Mr. Wendell. You have no right to be here. Leave now before I’m forced to call security!”

“I’ve got some spare change. Can we make a bargain, dear Smead?” I said sounding drained. ” I only have but a single dream that’s tired, used and near death but it’s a dream nonetheless.”

Doc Shedsleep stepped forward with a sly grin “Your spare change is no good here but this dream sounds enticing. Well, Wendell, I’m feeling generous today. I’ll tell ya’ what. Sign that dream over to me and I’ll examine you but no procedures or medicines, got it?. I’ll take a long look at you, so sign right here.” Shedsleep grabbed a form from Smead’s trembling fingers and placed it on a desk next to me. I signed it quickly as a pain seized my joints.

“Where’s your office, Doc Shedsleep?” I said in a fading voice. In an instant both Smead and Shedsleep started laughing ghoulishly.

The wretched whistle returned and two security guards grabbed me by the arms and pulled my listless body towards the nearest exit.

The cold outside air suddenly slapped me across the face. I felt weaker than ever and could only hit the filthy street with a thud. I crawled to the side of the hospital and laid my head against the stone building, feeling no emotion. No rage, no joy, no sadness, no prayers in the works, just physical pain and a hollow fatigue. It was then that I turned to my left and saw and endless row of people all collapsed against the building with their eyes open, staring blankly at the incandescant cars speeding by. The cold night’s sky turned into a dull light blue, shrouding our empty gazes without mercy.

There was no exchange of words as the wind whipped across our dying faces. The only relief came when I realized that like these fellow me and women, I had nothing more to lose. Nothing more today, at least. My body filled with a warm comfort that would carry me through the rest of the evening.

~Doc Wendell, January 25, 2017.

“Where’s your office, Doc Shedsleep?” I said in a fading voice. In an instant both Smead and Shedsleep started laughing ghoulishly.

The wretched whistle returned and two security guards grabbed me by the arms and pulled my listless body towards the nearest exit.

The cold outside air suddenly slapped me across the face. I felt weaker than ever and could only hit the filthy street with a thud. I crawled to the side of the hospital and laid my head against the stone building, feeling no emotion. No rage, no joy, no sadness, no prayers in the works, just physical pain and a hollow fatigue. It was then that I turned to my left and saw an endless row of people all collapsed against the building with their eyes open, staring blankly at the incandescent cars speeding by. The cold night’s sky turned into a dull light blue, shrouding our empty gazes without mercy.

There was no exchange of words as the wind whipped across our dying faces. The only relief came when I realized that like these fellow men and women, I had nothing more to lose. Nothing more to lose today, at least. My body filled with a warm comfort that would carry me through the rest of the evening.

~Doc Wendell, January 25, 2017.

 

Farewell Leonard Cohen

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

 

As a songwriter, you want to avoid the obvious comparisons in popular culture. People try to tear you down and discredit you if you try to emulate Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Tom Waits  and Leonard Cohen. More than anyone else, these men brought popular music out of the mundane and anti-intellectual and gave the masses permission to at least attempt to be modern day musical poets.

I remember attempting to discuss this with Lou Reed while I was a student at NYU over 23 years ago.  Lou snapped “Leonard Cohen is great but he’s not rock n’ roll!” I couldn’t agree more but to me that’s what set Cohen apart from the others. He didn’t fall back on blues changes, doo-wop, or revamped country music. His earliest recordings were folky but it was still Leonard Cohen’s music; a distinct and beautiful category it it’s own right.

 

leonard-cohen

Poetry has always been a dark and often deceptive presence  in my life. I studied Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Yeats, TS Elliot, William Blake, and on and on. I of course gravitated towards the “darker” and more introspective stuff. I loved that voyeuristic aspect of Leonard Cohen’s writing.  I never felt Suzanne was actually known by him. She was observed through desperate, obsessed and gloriously curious eyes. Days without sleep, watching her, studying her, neglecting the self. I too have been there to near death with drunken scabs and delirium tremens. That pleading insanity was there with me in “I’m Your Man.” The case must be made to her or that awful energy turns inward, eating away at common sense and a restful mind. The view from below became sacred with a resounding “Hallelujah.”

I know it all too well. The terror wells up in my body as I try to recall her name and face. What lead up to the fall? Why so far down? I wanted to see all that I could without danger but it never goes that way.   And then there’s the disfigured, disintegrating and  disgusting world outside that needs redemption. “The Future”, as Cohen painted it is a reality we’ve all seen too clearly. “They say “repent”, I wonder what they meant.” Yes. I feel it right now at this very moment; trapped like a caged rat in it’s center with little air.

But we wanted it darker and so Leonard Cohen heard us from his “Tower Of Song”, took a look at the cards and turned the mirror on us all. “If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game.” One last gasp before departing from this place. “I’m ready my lord”, said in a state of exhaustion and vulnerability. This could be the national anthem for many like myself today. A final look outward and a farewell inward. “They’re lining up the prisoner and the guards are taking aim.”

Farwell, Leonard.

 

 

 

 

Doc’s Tribute To Bob Cranshaw

 

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

 

When I think of Bob Cranshaw, I think of the warmth and precision of his bass playing. He created these grooves that were so precise, imaginative and funky that they would become a part of your life forever.  I first heard Bob’s playing on Sonny Rollins’ classic album “The Bridge” when I was in junior high school.  Then came Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder”, Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge”, Grant Green’s  ” Idle Moments”, Nat Adderley’s “Sayin’ Something”, Dexter Gordon’s “Clubhouse” and Hank Mobley’s “A Caddy For Daddy.”

This list doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. Bob was one of the most prolific bass players to emerge from the late ’50s and he brought his instantly recognizable approach to every project that he took part in.

bob-cranshaw-pic-1                                                                  Bob Cranshaw

 

Bob’s bass style was a drastic contrast to the aggressive and frenetic work of Paul Chambers; Blue Note’s other major session bassist of the ’60s. Bob had a very personal touch. He was the anchor. He could do more with fewer notes that most could do with the full dozen. Bob would bookend a groove and lock in with the drummer, creating more space for the featured soloists to explore freely. There was this wonderfully dark sparseness and sense of dynamics to Bob’s bass lines that were just relentlessly soulful and true.

I met Bob Cranshaw in the summer of 1996. My musical idol Sonny Rollins performed a free show outside of Lincoln Center in NYC. I knew that Bob had been with Sonny since the first annual Playboy Jazz Festival in 1959 and was on so many epochal Rollins recordings since 1962.  It was exciting to see that chemistry between these two giants; a chemistry that had changed and grown over the years as they both changed and grew.  I was seated near the stage and when the show ended, I approached Bob and told him how much I admired his work.  Bob was gracious, humble and wise; all traits that existed in every note and groove that he played on that bass. He talked about music and his journey being a constant process of learning, growing and giving. This meeting had a profound effect on my thinking and spiritual state of being as a musician. Bob wasn’t the kind of player to think that he had arrived at some point of perfection. The growth happens every moment of every day with openness and hard work. That’s quite a lesson, one that I remind myself of all the time.

 

cranshaw-3

Bob Cranshaw

 

It’s no surprise to learn that Bob Cranshaw played a significant role in The Musicians Union and was of constant service to others around him. I felt that genuine warmth and kindness during our brief encounter over 20 years ago.  This was a great artist and person who left behind a phenomenal legacy to be studied by countless generations to come.

For those of us who live for this music, it’s very difficult to witness the disrespect that the mainstream media shows by ignoring someone like Bob Cranshaw upon his passing and when he was living for that matter.  I do what I do as a writer because The Grammys aren’t likely to do a tribute to Bob Cranshaw this year (or ever)  but I’ll keep on doing it because what Bob gave me on that hot summer day outside of Lincoln Center was priceless. Rest In Peace Bob Cranshaw and thank you from the bottom of my heart.

 

 

 

Classic Revisited: Gene Ammons All-Stars With Sonny Stitt (Prestige)

 

By Doc Wendell

 

The sound of Gene “Jug” Ammons’ tenor saxophone is one of the biggest, lushest, most beautifully indulgent tones to emanate from any instrument in the entire history of jazz. Like Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Sonny Stitt, Tommy Potter and Lucky Thompson, Ammons’ creativity blossomed in the superbly adventurous orchestra of Billy Eckstine of the mid to late ’40s.

jug-pic-1

Gene Ammons

Prior to playing with the incomparable “Mr. B”, Ammons played in trumpeter King Kolax’s  band in his hometown of Chicago. After leaving Eckstein’s bandstand, Ammons enjoyed a brief stint in Wood Herman’s sax section.  In 1950 Ammons formed his tenor sax duo with Sonny Stitt.  The live performances and recordings of Ammons and Stitt swapping hard, Chicago style bebop tenor lines influenced jazz musicians everywhere. Their duels were hard yet sweet and remain an integral part of American music history.

By the mid ’50s Ammons had signed to Prestige Records. Bob Weinstock would recruit the very finest bop players of the day to jam with “Jug” in a number of different settings.  Gene Ammons All-Star Sessions With Sonny Stitt is comprised of three stellar sessions. The album kicks off with a recording date from June 16, 1955.  Ammons is joined by Art Famer on trumpet, Lou Donaldson on Alto sax, Freddie Redd on piano, Addison Farmer on bass and Kenny Clarke on drums. “Woofin’ And Tweetin'” is a 13 minute 12 bar blues bop masterpiece featuring some of the most swinging playing by Donaldson, Farmer, and Ammons.  Addison Farmer, Freddie Redd and Kenny “Klook” Clarke lay down the most beautifully clean grooves imaginable.  “Juggernaut” is based on the “I Got Rhythm” chord changes.  Lou Donaldson’s alto lines are frenetic whereas Art Farmer and Ammons take their sweet time and tell a story with each beautifully unravelling solo.

jug-2-pic

The album then goes back in time to the days of the Ammons/Stitt tenor battles of 1950.  Ammons and Stitt are accompanied by Duke Jordan on piano, Tommy Potter on bass and the legendary Count Basie alum,  Jo Jones on drums. There are three burning outtakes of Ammons’ classic “Blues Up And Down”, each one more spectacular than the last. The sound quality is a little rough and scratchy but it adds to the purity of the music. This is no-nonsense bebop performed with love and joy. Ammons and Stitt don’t really sound as if they’re competing with one another; their tenor lines compliment each other with harmonic and rhythmic precision and mastery.

The “heads” or choruses of each piece have a big band swing feel but the improvisations are all bop.  Both renditions of “You Can Depend On Me” are uptempo barn burners that cook beyond belief.  Stitt plays mostly in the upper register of the tenor sax whereas Ammons swings right there in the middle.  “Bye Bye” from the same session date of March 5, 1955 features the addition of Billy Massey on trumpet who sounds a lot like Clark Terry.

This short compilation then jumps to October 28, 1950 with two exquisite ballads; “When I Dream Of You” and “A Lover Is Blue.”  These are without a doubt two of the most powerful ballads of that entire era. No one could tackle a ballad like “Jug” and Stitt.  Both pieces slightly resemble Charlie Parker’s mournful takes on “Embraceable You.”  This is the sound of yearning and loneliness yet there’s always a healthy dose of unadulterated ecstasy in everything Ammons and Stitt played together, even through the pain and isolation. The contrast makes the music irresistible.

The accompaniment of Junior Mance on piano, Gene Wright on bass and Wesley Landers on drums is focused and restrained.  “Stringin’ The Jug” from the same date is structurally close to “Blues Up And Down.”  Stitt and Ammons dance around each other’s tenor lines with a sound that captures the feeling of Chicago’s grittiest and coldest late night bop jam sessions.  Ammons and Stitt are joined by Billy Massey on trumpet, Al Outcalt on trombone, Charlie Bateman on piano, Gene Wright on bass and Teddy Stewart on drums for “New Blues Up And Down” which is a more aggressive take on one of Ammons’ most covered compositions.

The music on Gene Ammons All-Star Sessions With Sonny Stitt is bebop in its purest form. These are raw jam sessions where each player is free to play whatever they want in that moment without worrying about time restraints or producer suggestions. That big, bright, round “Jug” tenor tone will make you want to learn the tenor sax as will Stitt’s wonderfully intricate lines. It’s music like this that makes America great when everything else is letting you down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Classic Revisited: Max Roach + 4 (Emarcy)

 

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

 

Max Roach + 4 was recorded after tragic circumstances. In June of 1956, Clifford Brown, pianist Richie Powell and Powell’s wife Nancy were killed in a horrific car crash in Pennsylvania, ending the Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet forever. Prior to Brown’s and Powell’s deaths, the quintet consisted of Clifford Brown on trumpet, Sonny Rollins on tenor saxophone (Rollins replaced Harold Land in late 1955), Richie Powell on piano, George Morrow on bass an Max Roach on drums.  They were the hottest band of the “new” hard-bop era. The Clifford Brown/Max Roach Quintet never abandoned its deep bebop roots, in fact they celebrated them and took the music to new heights. The band cooked but had an unmistakable warmth that was infectious.

max-roach-pic-1

 

The death of Brown and Powell struck a huge blown to the jazz community. Roach was devastated but was still under contract with Emarcy Records and he wasn’t the kind of artist who would stop playing under any circumstances. And “Brownie” would have wanted the music to continue and grow.

Finding a “replacement” for the virtuosic Brown would not be easy but Roach knew that he could more than depend on bebop trumpet veteran and master Kenny Dorham.  Dorham had this uncanny ability to fit into any jazz setting. He played in bands with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Mercer Ellington, Bud Powell, The original Jazz Messengers, Thelonious Monk, Hank Mobley, Phil Woods, Joe Henderson all the way into the avant-garde era of the ’60s with players such as Eric Dolphy, John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor and Andrew Hill.  Dorham was the perfect man for the job. He had also previously recorded extensively with both Roach and Rollins.

Roach recruited Ray Bryant and Billy Wallace to fill the piano spot left by Powell and George Morrow remained the bass player for this new quintet.

On September 17, 19, and 20th of 1956 and March 20th of 1957, Max and the band went into the studio to cut Max Roach + 4 which resulted in one of the hardest swinging, slyest and funkiest bop albums ever recorded.

On tracks like George Russell’s “Ezz-Thetic”, Roach’s “Dr. Deep Free-Zee”, “Mr. X” and Cole Porter’s “Just One Of Those Things”, it’s evident that all of these trailblazers are in their prime. Sonny Rollins’ playing is hard, frenetic and imaginative, Dorham’s trumpet lines are sweet, fluid and sublimely lyrical, Ray Bryant’s piano style is restrained but tasteful whereas Billy Wallace plays a lot like Bud Powell and Art Tatum. Roach takes plenty of incredible drum solos throughout the album. He solos even more on this recording than on any of the previous Brown/Roach Quintet albums.

There had already been so many renditions of “Body And Soul” up to that point but the one on this record shows off the exquisite ballad work of both Rollins and Dorham who compliment each other perfectly.

On Dizzy Gillespie’s “Woody ‘n’ You”, the band stays true to Dizzy’s original arrangement. The highlight of the album is the dizzying, twisted and nasty reading of the Duke Ellington and Irving Mills classic “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”  which features some of Rollins’, Dorham’s , and Roach’s most inspired playing. The band is on fire, proving the whole point of this jazz standard.

The finest ballad on the album is a tender and original rendition of Edward Heyman and Victor Young’s “Love Letters.” Rollins, Dorham, and Wallace dive deep into the song’s melody and stretch it out beautifully, finding new harmonic ideas in the process. Dorham’s cornet work is divine.

The album closes with Ray Bryant’s original “Minor Trouble” which is a bop barn burner supreme. this is pure bebop at its best.  Something special would always occur when Sonny Rollins and Kenny Dorham would get together and blow and this is no exception.

Max Roach + 4 is an era defining album that proves that nothing can stop the power, energy, love and devotion of jazz.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Lauren Adams -Somewhere Else

 

By Devon “Doc Wendell

 

The genre designated as Americana encompasses a lot. Country, bluegrass, folk, blues, and good old fashioned rock n’ roll. Lauren Adams has been a veteran of the Los Angeles Americana music scene for many decades. She’s a stellar singer, guitarist and prolific songwriter.

LAUREN ADAMS

Adams’ new CD Somewhere Else rivals the greatest works by Emmylou Harris and Bob Dylan. Songs like “It Takes What It Takes”, the title track, “Miss You”, “Between Me And You” and “Heavy, Heavy Heart” are soulful ballads that deal with sorrow, longing, and most of all, spiritual growth.  Adams has a firm grip on reality and the struggles of love, dreams and the ability to keep moving forward despite the greatest of obstacles.

 

The music on Somewhere Else has a unique country/folk feel to it.  The backup band is superior, many of whom have been playing with Adams for many years such as guitarist Nick Kirgo (who co-engineered and mixed the album), the legendary Mark “Pocket” Goldberg on bass along with David Sutton, Hank Van Sickle and Dave Beyer, Debra Dobkin, drums and percussion. David Fraser and Tom Heimer appear on piano with Fraser also on accordion, Lynn Coulter and McCoy Kirgo on drums and vocals and tamborine, Luke Halpin, Mandolin and violin, Gary Stockdale, background vocals, and Grady Kinnoin, pedal steel guitar.

 

Adams has a warm sense of humor which is apparent on “Henry (From Saginaw Michigan)” Adams is a true story teller, which is something that’s missing from most musical genres today. Even the older “legends” have fallen back on familiar clichés or trying to tackle Sinatra but Adams has the key to that forever song, which is a rare gift. Her voice is tender and poignant and it’s obvious that these musicians have been playing together for a long time.

LADAMS

‘The Shoe Fits” and “Oh Marie” are real country tunes with no pop gimmicks. The recording is clean and clear. It’s refreshing to hear the real thing. Adams is no stranger to this music. At a time in which even Nashville is calling out for actual good old fashioned country music, Lauren Adams could be the music’s savior. I love that Nick Kirgo and Adams recorded this album as purely as possible.

“We Try Harder” is a rollicking, no-nonsense country rocker. Adams shares the lead vocal spot with Lynn Coulter. This is the kind of music Bonnie Raitt should be playing.

“Bayview Drive” is a sweet and sincere lullaby and one of the album’s many highlights with some truly skillful and inspirational guitar picking by Adams. The lyrics on “National Cheer Up The Lonely Day” are cynical and biting and the music is warm and soulful; the perfect dichotomy.  Any songwriter will wish they had penned this country classic. The album closes with John Anderson’s menacing “Seminole Wind.” The imagery is original, stark and beautiful and Adam’s vocals are perfect.

 

“Somewhere Else” is the most powerful statement in Americana music that I’ve heard in many decades. Adams is a poet and a master musician to be reckoned with. This recording is bound to make her a household name and kick open many doors. If you’re wondering what happened to true All-American country and folk music, look no further.